As well as reiterating that Pope Francis would “leave in peace” the four cardinals who sent him 5 Dubia (doubts) about his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the dean of the Roman Rota has also repeated his opinion that the outcome of the Synod of the Family was the work of the Holy Spirit.

In comments to the Register over the phone Dec. 2, Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto said that for the first time in 60 years, the Holy Father had “convoked two synods, one after the other” and that they “are the place where the spirit [works]. This is the ecclesiology of the Church.”

Last month, Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner revealed they had sent the Pope five “doubts”, called Dubia, two months earlier. The questions aimed at clearing up ambiguities and differing interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s summary document on the two synods on the family which took place in 2014 and 2015. 

The Pope has decided not to respond to the five questions which ask for simple “Yes” or “No” answers on whether aspects of Amoris Laetitia, particularly over whether remarried divorcees without an annulment and not living in continence can receive holy Communion, are consistent with previous papal teachings.

At a recent conference in Madrid, Msgr. Pinto had said that by publicly asking the Pope the five questions, the four cardinals were questioning the fruits of “not one synod but two”, and added: “You cannot doubt the action of the Holy Spirit."

Given the clear manipulation at both synods, claiming they were the work of the Holy Spirit has disturbed some of the faithful. I therefore reminded him that the most controversial topics failed to obtain a two-thirds majority in the first synod, and so should customarily have been rejected (the Pope authoritatively instead insisted they be carried over to the second synod). To this, he replied: “Yes, but you bind the Holy Spirit to the two-thirds? That’s a bit special, no?”.

A two-thirds majority is required during a synod to offer reassurance that whatever passes is of the Holy Spirit. Synods also have no authority to change doctrine and discipline, as stated in canon 342 of the Code of Canon Law, but rather to assist the Pope in safeguarding and promotion of sound doctrine concerning faith and morals.

To further argue his point, Msgr. Pinto referred to the "wide consultation" around the synod in the form of questionnaires, and pointed out that for the second synod last year, bishops’ conferences elected synod fathers to participate. He stressed that, for the second synod, every proposition passed by two-thirds. Therefore, for him, the two-thirds majority became an important sign of the Holy Spirit at work, but only when they all achieved the required majority to pass and did not need to be forced through from above.

Added to that inconsistency, he omitted to mention that not all the synod fathers were elected at the second synod: 45 were handpicked by the Pope (exceeding the usual 15% limit of total delegates) because most of them supported controversial disciplinary changes in this and other areas. They included Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Brussels, Belgium, found to have covered up a sexual abuse case.

Asked why the proposition on Holy Communion for remarried divorcees left out the full text of Familiaris Consortio 84, particularly on forbidding Communion unless living as brother and sister, thereby allowing Cardinal Kasper and others to claim that it does open the door to the sacraments, he said that issue was “too long” to discuss over the phone. “We cannot discuss all the synod questions”, he said, “but I think it’s enough to remember that Pope did not decide anything in solitude.”

At the conclusion of the synod, the remarried-divorcee discernment and accompaniment proposition ended up passing a two-thirds majority by just one vote, probably an impossible feat without the 45 unelected delegates and, it is argued, without the omissions in the text.

In his comments made in Madrid, Msgr. Pinto said he believed the four cardinals were committing a “very serious scandal” by publicly asking the Pope the five questions, although contrary to initial reports, he did not say they risked being dismissed from the Cardinalate.

It was nevertheless strong censure, and he later doubled down on criticizing the cardinals in an interview with Katholisches.de, a website run by the German bishops’ conference.

His comments took place just days after the Holy Father visited Msgr. Pinto and the Roman Rota. A reliable source has told the Register that Francis had instructed Msgr. Pinto at that event to say something publicly critical of the cardinals. The Holy See Press Office has not responded to the allegation.

Asked if the Pope did make such a request, Msgr. Pinto told the Register he was unable to answer that question “by phone”. He went on to say: “The dean has certainly been in contact with the Pope. He came to see me on the 18th, but it’s not necessary that the Pope tells me about that. That's what I can tell you.”

Despite his differences with the four cardinals, Msgr. Pinto said he knows Cardinal Burke “very well and I’ve always known him to be a man of peace” and he prayed that he “might see the way.” He also said he knows Cardinal Meisner well, has “great esteem” for both him and Cardinal Burke, and was “astonished” by the German cardinal’s participation in the Dubia. “Let us pray for the poor cardinals,” he said.

Meanwhile, leading German philosopher Robert Spaemann has given an interview in support of the four cardinals, saying it is “regrettable” that more have not joined them.

Spaemann, a friend of Benedict XVI and one of the most distinguished Catholic intellectuals in Europe, told the Italian newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana that the cardinals “have taken the correct road” and that the Pope’s decision not to answer the five questions “fills me with concern”. He said the Pope “clearly has a deep aversion towards decisions which require a yes or no”. But Christ, said Spaemann, often “shocked the apostles with simplicity and clarity of the doctrine”.